Tuesday, November 28, 2006

California’s Proposition 87 - What went wrong?

Proposition 87, the much ballyhooed California Initiative to levy a new oil extraction tax and use the revenue to support alternative fuels, went down to defeat in the recent election. One can’t overstate the impact of the $100 million oil-fueled campaign by opponents. “Higher gas prices. More foreign oil.” The refrain still rings in my ears. Oil companies made a smart investment to keep $4 billion for themselves.

But the Yes on 87 campaign squandered a great opportunity. The campaign spent $10s of millions in pursuit of the worthy goal of promoting alternatives to petroleum. Unfortunately the ads focused on promoting ethanol with a disconnected nod to solar and wind. The campaign, I would argue, that could have won, and would have educated even in losing, would have made clear the connection between popular renewables (solar and wind-generated electricity) and plug-in cars. If interest in the EAA PHEV project is any indication, current hybrid owners are ready to plug in. The moment was ripe to make the PV/EV connection big time.

Unfortunately for the campaign, doubts about biofuels have bubbled into the mainstream through publications such as Consumer Reports ( ). Ethanol has always had the sniff of corporate scam, and the involvement of venture capitalists as major promoters of Prop 87 only tainted the initiative.

The effort failed after early polling had it ahead, and public understanding of the choices we face to reduce petroleum usage remains unchanged. An electorate inclined to support environmental issues voted down a tax on the most polluting and richest corporations in the world.

The public understandably remains confused about clean cars. Gov. Schwarzenegger was still touting last year’s fashion, hydrogen, in his ads. Democrats seemed to pivot to ethanol. Who Killed the Electric Car? suggested plug-in cars are still viable. Car companies tout new gasoline cars as nearly zero emissions but the air is still unhealthy where most people live. And environmental leaders continue to express a preference for no preference. Sprinkle one part hydrogen, one part ethanol, one part clean diesel, one part bio diesel, and one part gasoline generated electricity into a mug of CAFE, stir and hope we end up with something better.

Prop 87 failed because political and environmental leadership has failed to heed the science and promote plug-in cars. The continued unwillingness of auto makers to create product to connect to the ubiquitous electric infrastructure is no excuse for keeping the public misinformed. Had the initiative’s promoters’ given equal billing to plug-ins and still lost, we would have gained considerable ground. If there’s a next time, let’s hope they take our advice.

RAVs to Keep Rolling in LA

The efforts of LA EV activists to keep the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s fleet of RAV4 EVs on the road appears to have been a success. Nate Vandershaaf, who arrived at one meeting with a bank-certified offer to purchase all 74 RAVs for $1.85 million, caught the attention of the Board of Commissioners. As did a letter of support from Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. Activists from PIA including Doug Korthof, Linda Nicholes, and a stream of EAA and PIA activists convinced one of the nation’s largest public power agencies to reconsider its decision to dump its electric cars. After open, public discussions at consecutive meetings of the Board, Commissioners overruled the staff recommendation to purchase Priuses rather than continue to lease the RAVs. In addition, LADWP consequently is negotiating a lease purchase option on some of the fleet-leased RAV4 EVs. There’s a lesson here for us all. By inserting ourselves as EV activists in the public process we can achieve results. There are numerous municipalities with leased Toyota RAV4 EVs. Now, we have precedent. Public pressure can convince lessees to persuade Toyota to allow the cars to be purchased. Let us know if your city or town has RAV4 EVs ripe for saving.

GM Series Plug-in Hybrid?

In early November, an LA Times story heralding GM’s resurrection of the plug-in car was carried by newspapers worldwide. GM announced it will show some sort of plug-in car at the Detroit Auto Show in January. Speculation has focused on the possibility of a serial plug-in hybrid. GM made a prototype plug-in hybrid EV1 during the 90s.

Rumors had already begun about GM’s electric intentions. In September, Chairman Lutz said that his worst decision was killing the EV1. In July Saab (owned by GM) displayed a reputedly plug-in hybrid bio-diesel convertible in Stockholm, but only after gluing shut access to the plug mentioned in a quickly withdrawn press release. Sherry Boschert, San Francisco chapter President and author of the newly published Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that Will Recharge America, captured the original press release. I’ll report on any GM announcements or rumors that come out of the LA Auto Show in early December in my next PIA report.

October '06 - CARB Takes Testimony on Electrics; LA Takes Action on RAV4 EVs

Evidence for Electrics Piles Up at ZEVTech

Plug In America and the Electric Auto Association were well represented and well received at the California Air Resources Board Zero Emission Vehicle Technical Review in Sacramento. This three day event was convened to present information to CARB staff as it considers options for the ZEV mandate in 2007.

Presenters included automakers; battery, hydrogen and fuel cell companies; electric utilities; and energy and emissions analysts. What seems indisputable after three days is that hydrogen and fuel cells remain far from ready for prime time.

Chelsea Sexton and Paul Scott presented for Plug In America, making the case that plug-in cars are reliable and ready. Ron Freund revealed the results of the RAV4 EV Driver Survey, and Tim Hastrup gave a portrait of one family’s decade with electric cars.

Toyota made clear they want out from under the requirement to start producing FCVs in large numbers. Dave Hermance said producing more than 30 FCVs per generation is a waste of money and resources. Because he also dusted off Toyota’s disingenuous presentation about the effort made to sell RAV4 EVs from the infamous ZEV Meeting in 2003, he seems to be suggesting Toyota wants to take neither path offered by CARB to meet true Zero Emission Vehicle requirements.

Honda’s Ben Knight said the Japanese carmaker will enter the market with its FCV in 2015, long after current project managers are gone. GM announced its intention to “place” 100 FCVs with fleets and consumers over the next few years. They forsee no market until well into the next decade. Ford didn’t even show up.

Lithium batteries and the possibilities of Vehicle-to-Grid technology provided the real buzz at ZEVTech. Utilities were well-represented with presentations touting the benefits grid-connected cars offer in reduced emissions, lower cost and load leveling.

Check out these presentations, and many others, at the CARB website: http://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/zevprog/symposium/presentations/presentations.htm

LADWP RAV4 EVs Win Reprieve

In Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power, one of the nation’s largest public power agencies, is reconsidering its decision to return its fleet of RAV4 EVs. As was the case with the unsuccessful attempt to save Pasadena’s Nissan HyperMinis, resident EV advocates have joined with DWP staff supportive of the electric vehicles to bring the issue to the attention of the Board. The return to Toyota of the EV fleet is on hold for the moment.

Holiday EVangelism - Book and Movie Stocking-Stuffers

November will see the publication of “Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars That Will Recharge America” by San Francisco Electric Vehicle Association president Sherry Boschert. She will be traveling to promote the book beginning in November. If your chapter can arrange an event with Sherry, you’ll have a very informative meeting. Advance orders and contact information at www.sherryboschert.com.

The DVD of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” will also become available in November, in time for holiday gift-giving.

Plug In America and the EAA will have both products available shortly. Check our websites, www.pluginamerica.com and www.eaaev.org, for details.

September '06 - Tesla Roadster Unveiled, Electric Cars NOT DEAD YET!

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Since my last report, the success of the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” set the stage for the dramatic unveiling of the Tesla Motors Roadster in Santa Monica on July 19th.

By mid August, the film had grossed over $1 million in its theatrical release, thanks in no small part to the great promotional efforts by members of the Electric Auto Association. From Oregon to Florida, members continues to promote the film and promote the idea of electric cars at screenings. In numerous cities, members have been out with their cars and literature to answer the many questions audience members have after viewing the film. The result has been not only greater visibility for our cause but also increased membership for both the EAA and Plug In America. The movie is entering its seventh week at some theaters, and is opening in more venues every week.

Tesla Unveiled

Riding this wave of publicity, with movie reviews across the nation asking the question “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” Tesla Motors provided one convincing answer in the business pages. “Not Dead Yet” indeed. While priced dearly at $100,000 for the first 100 vehicles, the car’s specs are so impressive and the company so well capitalized that it received prominent coverage across the nation, including the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. The countdown to delivery begins.

Certainly, events in the world have conspired to drive attention to the film and the Tesla. Oil prices peaked once again at over $75 a barrel. The shutdown by BP of its Prudhoe Bay drilling operation and the Alaska pipeline due to years of neglect threatened to reduce our domestic supply of gasoline. The war between Israel and Hizbollah has brought massive petroleum spills to Beirut’s beaches as a result of the bombing of an oil-burning electricity generation plant.

Can We Save Pasadena's Electric Cars?

And then on August 8, amid all this bad news, a ray of sunshine. On that day, employees of the City of Pasadena acted decisively to protect their electric Nissan HyperMinis from being taken to the crusher by Nissan car carrier trucks. Working with Southern California members of Plug In America, they used other electric vehicles to physically block Nissan from being able to take the cars. This virtual municipal revolt against the car companies' confiscation of electric cars has revived the campaign to stop the crushing. The Pasadena Star News covered the story as it developed, culminating in a strong editorial supporting the city’s efforts to keep the non-polluting cars on the road. The Mayor of Pasadena expressed his support for the city employees who prevented the Nissan car carriers from leaving with the electric cars Pasadena would like to purchase.

Plug In America is working to support the efforts of Pasadena. We need your help to spread this effort nationwide. Call Nissan at (800) NISSAN-1 or (800-647-7261) and tell them to let Pasadena buy their electric HyperMinis. Make sure your municipal fleets with electric cars do everything in their power to keep their cars! If you find out what’s up with EVs in local fleets, let us know. And in our next report we’ll let you know about progress made to save the Pasadena HyperMinis.

July/August '06 - Activists Promote the Film, Ford Retreats on Hybrids

Who Killed the Electric Car opens across America
EAA chapters turn out for openings

Summer 2006 has been all about “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Reviews of the movie by the score have been fueled by $75 per barrel oil and the fear of $4 per gallon gas.

Chris Paine, the director, and Chelsea Sexton, ex-EV1 specialist and a central character in the film, tirelessly criss-crossed the country speaking to the press. Opening box office has been respectable, but certainly not gangbusters. Audiences across the country have remained in their seats slackjawed at the tragedy portrayed for Q & A sessions with the filmmakers and electric car activists. The audiences universally want to know what they can do, given the unavailablility of plug-in cars on the market.

Plug In America has put together a list of actions we can take. (see www.pluginamerica.com)
1. Use all means short of hostage-taking to get friends and family to see the movie in the theater. 
2. Tell your local dealer you’ll buy a hyrid with a plug. And not until then!
3. Sign the Plug-in Partners petition. (www.pluginpartners.org)
4. Tell CARB you want plug-in vehicles in the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate. 

Nothing engages viewers of the film like an interaction with an EV driver and an electric car. EAA chapters across the country continue to organize events at showings of the movie, including Q&A sessions after the film, leafletting with cards and flyers with information about electric cars, the Electric Auto Association, and Plug In America. (Material available from marc@pluginamerica.com)

In some locales, theaters have been extremely cooperative, at others less so. (Watch the story on the Raging Grannies in San Jose.)

Ford about-face on hybrids a slap in the face to Big Enviro

While consumers may be awakening to the need for plug-in cars and government conferences on the subject multiply, the automakers continue to send very mixed signals. A year ago Ford nabbed a significant endorsement from the Sierra Club for its limited edition Mercury Mariner hybrid (29/35 mpg - gasoline only) and a promise of 250,000 hybrids by 2010. Ford has now done an abrupt about face. Ethanol is the alternative fuels flavor of the month, and Ford jumped on GM’s yellow bandwagon. Anything, it would seem, to forestall the inevitable plug.

Stirring some confusion as to its intentions, Ford mentioned its “continued interest in plug-in hybrids” in its press announcement. At the same time, rumors swirl around GM and plug-in hybrids. And Toyota continues to dangle hybrid efficiency advances that would seem unattainable without the plug.

Ford’s reneging on its committment to hybrids ought to lead the major environmental organizations to do some serious soul searching on the question of automobiles and emissions. Their members and policy makers turn to them to understand what can and should be done. The quarter century old strategy of pursuing increased gasoline efficiency (higher CAFE standards) and ignoring the commercially viable alternatives to petroleum has failed. Cars have gotten cleaner, but there are more of them. And over time, even the cleanest hybrid gets dirtier. It’s time our environmental leadership face the facts.  If you are a member of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, or the Union of Concerned Scientists, let them know you want them to support efforts to bring plug-in cars to market.  

June '06 - The Film Opens, CARB Ducks, PHEV Debut in DC

Who Killed the Electric Car Opens Across the Nation

Who Killed the Electric Car?, director Chris Paine’s long-awaited documentary, begins a nationwide theatrical release on June 28 in Los Angeles and New York. In July it will open in every major American market. Plug In America and other Electric Auto Association chapters have been actively promoting the film with a guerilla marketing campaign aimed at raising awareness. PIA created a webad and bumperstickers connecting rising gas prices and the electric car. $3...$4...$5.../gallon. Who Killed the Electric Car? (Webad available for free download at www.pluginamerica.com/downloads.html. Bumpersticker available for purchase at www.cafepress.com/pluginamerica).

Global warming is taking center stage with the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which is preceded by a trailer for the electric car documentary. (See the trailer at www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com) Gore compellingly describes the problem. Paine’s movie offers up a solution.

EAA chapters are organizing to ensure large audiences for the movie. Mill Valley and San Francisco are planning electric car parades, EV shuttles and parties surrounding the movie’s release, and to bring it to the attention of elected officials. It is critical that we generate interest in the film, one of the best opportunities afforded us in a long time to promote electric cars.

CARB Ducks H2 Controversy

For over six months, Plug In America has been in communication with The California Air Resources Board to obtain a response to Alec Brook’s analysis of Hydrogen vs Electricity for cars. Brooks shows that the use of renewable electricity to generate the hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles is four times less efficient than using that same electricity to power a battery Electric Vehicle. Brooks presented an earlier version of this paper in a December 2002 CARB workshop on the Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate which was ignored. Subsequent to that hearing, CARB pulled the plug on battery EVs and put its effort behind hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Now, three years later, after over 4,000 EVs have been destroyed by the carmakers, less than 100 fuel cell vehicles have been built and the infrastructure to refuel them is virtually non-existent. In light of this lack of progress, PIA feels CARB cannot justify its move toward hydrogen technology and away from EVs. CARB has repeatedly promised PIA a written response to Brooks' paper, yet they continue to stonewall. PIA will continue to pressure CARB for its official response to Alec Brooks’ analysis. (see http://www.evworld.com/view.cfm?section=article&storyid=750)

Plug-in Prius Makes Capitol Debut

Plug In America is an active participant in many efforts to promote plug-in hybrids. We work closely with Calcars, the non-profit organization responsible for the first Plug-in Prius. We worked on the Maker Faire plug-in project, and supported the effort that brought the CalCars Edrive Lithium Plug-in Prius to Washington DC in May. Dozens of Senators and Congressional representatives from both parties had the opportunity to drive the car. Photos of smiling Senators waving the infrastructure requirement for PHEVs, an extension cord, can be seen at: http://www.setamericafree.org/plugdcmay06.htm. Legislation moving ahead in congress, HR. 4409 the Fuel Choices for American Security Act, which will include funding for plug-ins, is garnering support, and was much aided by the presence of the car.